Gerda Saunders served as the University of Utah’s associate director of Gender Studies until she retired in 2011. That year, her colleagues gave her a leather-bound notebook as a farewell gift. Nine months prior to leaving her job, Sanders was diagnosed with cerebral microvascular disease, a precursor of dementia. She was only sixty-one. In her book, Memory’s Last Breath: Field Notes On My Dementia, Saunders recounts her experience living with a degenerative brain disease.
The Terrible Tragedy Of Forgetting
Who is this person I call “I “who feels so lost in a world that, all of a sudden, seems to tilt from its axis?
(from Memory’s Last Breath: Field Notes On My Dementia by Gerda Saunders)
For three years, Saunders used her notebook (in entries called “Field Notes”) to record her journey with dementia. Her goal was to “shed light on the confusion, embarrassments, hurt feelings, and shrinking self-image that many people with dementia experience.”
The memory lapses Saunders describes will be familiar to caregivers and dementia sufferers. Saunders shares the challenges of living with early-onset dementia with honesty and clarity. She speaks candidly about washing her hair twice in an hour, walking out of the store with unpaid merchandise, and misplacing cooking implements. In short, Saunders pulls no punches about the truth: dementia is a cruel, unforgiving mistress.
Science And The Reality Of Life
Memory’s Last Breath explores the fallibility of memory. It also combines frank observations about dementia with compelling stories from Saunders’ youth. Her anecdotes about growing up in a large family on a tobacco farm in South Africa are especially fascinating.
The book also provides scientific, yet accessible summaries of the latest neurological research on dementia. Saunders includes notes on memory function, the role of the limbic system in memory formation and emotion, and the impact of cell death on cognition. Notably, the author describes the irony of distilling complex scientific and philosophical information for her readers while struggling with everyday tasks.
An Invaluable Resource For Caregivers
Memory’s Last Breath is a stirring, lyrical testament to personal courage. Its stark honesty makes it an undeniably helpful resource for dementia caregivers and anyone with early to mid-stage dementia. In 2017, NPR named Memory’s Last Breath one of the year’s great reads.
Saunders’ ground-breaking book helps caregivers understand the fragile world dementia patients must navigate every day. Specifically, Saunders delineates the terrible progression of memory loss and its effects on her spouse and caretakers.
David York Salutes Saunders’ Courage In Memory’s Last Breath: Field Notes On My Dementia
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